Hunger is an essential element of human survival.
It’s a very simple system on the surface. When we don’t eat for a certain amount of time, or we don’t eat enough, our body reacts by craving food.
Under the hood though, it can get much more complicated, when we start looking at things like the hormonal system where leptin and ghrelin regulate our hunger and fullness.
Whatever way we look at it, we all have an understanding that hunger is something we’d rather avoid, if possible.
If you’re in a phase of trying to lose fat, it’s often the case that you need to be eating fewer calories than your body would ideally like, and hunger can be an issue.
However, there are a few things that we can do in order to decrease the frequency and/or the severity of this hunger, often to the point where we feel satisfied most of the time.
1. Eat More Protein-Rich Foods
A protein-rich diet tends to be more filling than a low-protein diet. This has been shown in a number of studies, but also makes sense at an anecdotal level.
Let’s take 200 kcal of chicken breast (a decent sized fillet), vs. 200 kcal of cashew nuts (about 20-25 cashews), vs. 200 kcal of rice (about half a packet of microwave rice).
I think it’s fair to say that if we were basing our decision of which to eat, purely on how full we would feel afterwards, the chicken breast would be most commonly chosen.
2. Eat More Vegetables and Fruits
Following on from the previous point, if we were to take 200 kcal worth of peppers, or spinach, or onions, or celery, or carrots, the hunger-satiating effect would be even greater than that of a chicken fillet.
This is partially due to the high fibre content of vegetables and fruits, as well as the high water content, which creates a higher volume of food, relative to the number of calories in that food, filling up more space in the stomach, leading to increased satiety or fullness.
3. Avoid Liquid Calories
Again, by bringing in the comparison of 200 kcal of apple juice, which is about a medium sized glass, vs 200 kcal of solid apple, which is about 2 full apples, you can hopefully see the value of focussing on solid foods over liquds.
The juice is barely going to make any difference to your hunger level, whilst eating a couple of apples certainly will.
4. Reduce Flavour Variability
As someone who advocates for eating tasty food, even when trying to lose weight, it seems strange when I advise people to limit the number of flavours within a meal.
However, it can be a good idea, as long you don’t take it to the extreme end, where you’re eating things like unseasoned boiled chicken and veg, and not enjoying your food.
Have you ever noticed that you’re able to eat dessert, no matter how full you are?
That’s partly because the new taste and texture of the dessert are different than what you’ve been eating, and for some reason, that makes the food desirable.
I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this, but I’ve noticed with myself and clients, that if a meal contains a limited number of flavours (let’s say, chicken, rice, broccoli and peppers), you tend to get fuller sooner, in comparison with a meal with a lot more flavours and textures (e.g. something like breaded chicken with rice, peas and sweetcorn, peppers and onions, hot sauce, and a side of tortilla chips.)
This may not be something relatable to you, and of course, I’d advise getting a variety of foods, particularly vegetables and fruit, into your diet throughout the week, but it may be something worth considering, if hunger is an issue for you.
5. Keep Hydrated
Common dehydration symptoms like headache, fatigue, lightheadedness and difficulty concentrating are often misinterpreted as hunger.
For this reason alone, it’s important to keep on top of your water intake, not to mention the rest of the important benefits, including the proper digestion of food and the transport of nutrients.
6. Improve Sleep and Stress Levels
Studies have shown that lack of sleep, as well as increased stress levels can affect hormones involved with hunger, and increases the desire to eat higher-calorie foods. This means that when you are stressed out and/or haven’t slept enough, you are likely to be hungrier and make poorer food choices throughout the day.
Again, this is one change that will not only help with hunger, but will also have an effect on the rest of your health and performance goals.
7. Eat Regularly
People often wait until they’re hungry to eat.
In theory, this isn’t a bad idea, as it makes use of our body’s natural hunger system to our advantage. This would have worked perfectly throughout human evolution, where food was relatively scarce.
However, today, where there is an abundance of food available to us at all times, and with a lot of that food being high-calorie and hyper-palatable (really tasty), the math sways in the direction of us eating more than we need.
If we eat at regular times throughout the day, we are able to set up a schedule and plan what we are going to be eating ahead of time, meaning we’re less likely to get to that stage of extreme hunger, where we’ll eat whatever we can get our hands on, and even if we do, we are likely to make better decisions, knowing that we’ve planned ahead.
Conor O’Neill, Know Yourself Nutrition
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